By DANIEL KITTREDGE A familiar face made a stop in Cranston late last week to highlight federal efforts to boost workforce development and the "care economy." U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who served as Rhode Island's governor until departing
A familiar face made a stop in Cranston late last week to highlight federal efforts to boost workforce development and the “care economy.”
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who served as Rhode Island’s governor until departing for D.C. earlier this year, visited the Cranston Adult Education Programs, or CAEP, building on Rolfe Square on Friday ahead of a roundtable event at the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket.
Joined by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, Raimondo received greetings from Mayor Ken Hopkins and spoke with students and staff at CAEP during the roughly half-hour event.
“It’s exciting for me to be here. It’s wonderful to be home,” Raimondo said during brief remarks to those gathered.
The Cranston stop was billed as a photo opportunity for media ahead of the Pawtucket event, where Raimondo and Reed took questions on a range of other topics, including the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The focus of the Cranston visit and the Pawtucket roundtable, according to a press advisory, was on federal proposals for “major new investments in the care economy … including making care affordable, taking financial care of our care workforce, and addressing the lack of quality care facilities.” The advisory cites U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projections that the number of Americans age 65 or older will double, to nearly 80 million, by 2040, while the number of adults 85 or older will “almost quadruple” during the same timeframe.”
Raimondo, Langevin and Reed all spoke in support of President Joe Biden’s “care economy” investment proposals, part of an agenda that has been branded “Build Back Better.”
“A lot of the work I’m doing in Commerce is bringing businesses together with training partners, exactly what you’re doing here, to try to make sure that folks who either want a better job can get the job training they need to get a better job, or frankly, there’s still millions of Americans out of work right now,” Raimondo said. “And so the work you’re doing here is so important, and what I love about it is, you have a great track record of leading straight to a job.”
“The care economy is so central to what we have to build … The secretary is on the vanguard in Washington in leading that effort,” Reed said.
He added: “We’re looking at the future. We’re looking at a high demand for health care workers, a high demand for child care workers, and also, we’re looking to make sure that they’re compensated appropriately for the work they do.”
Langevin praised the president’s administration as “laser focused on building back better,” calling it “so vitally important to having American families get back to work.”
Gail Dzekevich, director at CAEP, said the facility serves as the largest GED testing site for the state. It also offers English as a second language, or ESL, classes. Additionally, it provides training programs in phlebotomy and for medical and dental assistant and certified nursing assistant, or CNA, certification.
Dzekevich, who has worked in adult education since the 1978, said CAEP typically has 120 GED students and 120 training program students at any given time. The training programs typically run twice a year, with an additional phlebotomy program in the summer.
“I love it,” she said of her work. The students, she noted, “want to be here,” drawn by the chance to continue their education or begin a career.
Felicia Freeman, who completed the phlebotomy program at CAEP in July 2020 and now works at Miriam Hospital, was among them. While other options were available to her, she said CAEP’s flexibility and sense of community made it a perfect fit.
“It’s definitely a great program,” she said. “As a working mom, it was easier for me to come here at night a couple of days a week … It was a really great program, and my teacher was amazing. I really enjoyed it here.”
There were less formal aspects to last week’s Cranston stop. Hopkins highlighted recent improvements to Rolfe Square made under his administration, and told Raimondo similar work is planned in Knightsville and Pawtuxet Village, which will host the 250th Gaspee Days celebration next year.
“The economy, small business, that’s been our focus,” he said.
During various conservations, Reed – a Cranston native – mentioned that the Eden Park neighborhood was once known as “Sweden Park” due to its large Swedish population and noted that the conference room in the Briggs building, which houses the Cranston Public Schools central administration, is named for his father – “the famous Reed,” as he put it. Raimondo said she was surprised to learn both those facts.
The event also provided the elected officials on hand a chance to applaud Cranston Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse, who was recently named Rhode Island’s Superintendent of the Year. Raimondo became visibly excited when she recognized Nota-Masse in the audience.
“So well deserved. So well deserved,” she told the superintendent. “I’m really proud of you.”
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